• Fabric First

Are Sustainable Design (ESD) graduates ready for the real world?

After another sleepless night, with a trapped nerve in my neck waking me at 4 am, my early weekend start had me pondering a question that has been niggling at me for the last year.


During a period of challenging employment outlook for the next generation of Australian based sustainable design professions, why are so many seemingly still ill-equipped when coming into the workspace?


Today, while the lucrative software start-ups might need to be omitted from the context of employability, graduates looking to improve the quality of the design and construction industry are seemingly in a catch 22 cycle, experience first please!


Jump onto one of Australia’s job search engines, and the priority of experience becomes very clear, where few if any positions are targeting our graduates coming through the ubiquitous maze of 'sustainability' University modules and courses.


As an employer and as part of a team working in the Building Physics (ESD) space, I have been lucky enough to meet dozens of aspiring and potentially talented individuals ready to dip their toes into the world of consulting over the last couple of years.

Have I been a strong employer in this space….the honest and regretful answer is no.

Today’s sustainable design graduates, as are many other streams of graduates, continue to be lacking in the industry fundamentals that make them valuable in the increasingly competitive, convoluted and commercial arena of consulting. With no real experience after 3 or 5 years at university, the hard work often goes into getting the top grades rather than understanding the actual industry and its opportunities.


This can make sustainable design graduates super challenging to employ in a world where reactive servicing of client requirements are always defined with deadlines of 'a.s.a.p' or 'end of the week?'. Where projects afford the luxury of time, they also necessitate the value of experience...so back to our catch 22!


So, for those who I have met, and maybe a few more, here are a few hints that will make you stand out from the ground and get you onto the first step of the sustainable design ladder….. and start today to shine in your next interview setting!


1.Compliance is your bread and butter, and don't forget it! Minimum National Construction Code – Section J compliance investigations are where many graduates will ply their trade once they get the foot in the door.

You may live vicariously by looking over the shoulder of more experienced people in the team doing enviously interesting projects, such as that in the main image, but you are likely to be of greatest value in a consultancy setting punching numbers (meaningful, of course) into NatHERS models and learning the compliance game. Take my word on this one, it will be your friend and then your enemy but the sooner you embrace its challenges, the quicker your will go beyond its limitations.


2. Energy modelling is a bonus, not a path to employment. Anyone with experience will tell you, you put rubbish and you get rubbish out. Occasionally useful, if you have the full ability to model both façades and services accurately, but this will take 1000’s of hours of dedication and support to get right and to be of real value.


Start now and opt for tools with parametric interfaces such as JEPlus (in the video above). If you are using tools that do not have the ability to model 100’s of scenarios while you are off grabbing a sandwich for lunch, you are using the wrong tool!


3. Understand how to provide more architectural support with awesome Grasshopper plugins. If you don’t understand the image above, stop reading this post and get going.


Ladybug allows you to import and analyze weather data in Grasshopper; draw awesome diagrams like Sun-paths, wind-roses, radiation-roses, run radiation analysis, shadow studies and much more. While Honeybee, almost always mentioned in the same breath, connects Grasshopper to validated simulation engines such as EnergyPlus, Radiance, Daysim and OpenStudio for building energy, comfort, daylighting and lighting simulation. Look our for Butterfly coming soon, that will connect you to OpenFOAM and the ability to undertake CFD assessments.


4. You cannot do it alone, be prepared to collaborate. While we are seeing a relatively slow uptake in the world of true project collaboration, projects like Flux.io and BIM modelling in general are the future of our industry.

As project teams begin working on single models for all aspects of the build, while clients, building owners and operators are getting more access to BIM models through their mobile devices, anyone coming into the consulting world should be at least versed in the challenges of project collaboration but also be prepared to work towards the true potential. 


5. Our Industry is developing, learn to code. Again, not for the faint hearted and you may need to sweat this one out but have a crack at learning to code. Our industry is changing and what we see in our industry today will be largely obsolete in 10 year’s time. 


6. Embrace the design but focus on construction. To be involved in great design teams, producing Sustainable Management Plans for Council, is a fantastic experience. But working with actual construction teams, bridging design aspirations with buildability and procurement, is where you actually provide occupant comfort and energy efficiency. Without understanding the 'Performance Gap', you may as well throw your design aspirations out the window as you are not working towards real world goals.

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